These kids hit all the right notes

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 23, 2010 - 11:00 PM

Singalong features students who used a computer program to improve their abilities.

Third-graders who learned to carry a tune with the aid of a karaoke-style computer program will lead community singalongs Monday in Bloomington and New Hope.

Parents, friends and residents are invited to join in the performances, which are part of the Great American Singing Challenge, an initiative to motivate children to sing, help them sing on key and promote the art.

"Singing is a learned behavior, much like riding a bike," said Ann C. Kay, director of the Center for Lifelong Music in Minnetonka, who launched the singing-in-tune challenge in 2008.

"You can't say, 'I didn't get that talent.' When your dad pushed you down the driveway and you fell off the bike, you don't say, 'I didn't get the balance gene.' You get up and try again. It takes practice to take a frequency from the ear to the brain to a vocal cord."

Kay, a former school music teacher, persuaded 175 music teachers in the Upper Midwest to try the Singing Coach software to teach 10,000 kids how to sing on key. As a student sings into a microphone, a computer records the voice and, like a karaoke machine, projects a line on a screen to trace their pitch. Students can see if they are too low, too high or right on the mark, and they score points for accuracy.

"It's very visual for them, and this is really accurate feedback," said Janet Cruse, a music specialist at Hillcrest Community School in Bloomington.

The software was a hit in Robbinsdale schools this year, too.

Students were tested in the fall on the patriotic song "America" (also known as "My Country, 'Tis of Thee") and again in the spring and given a score. One student at Sonnesyn Elementary in New Hope improved his score by 50 percent, said Barb Abeln, a music teacher at the school.

"The kids loved it," Abeln said.

"It was like a computer game, and they were motivated to improve their scores and singing ability."

In Bloomington, Monday's singalong at 6:30 p.m. at Kennedy High School will feature more than 700 third-graders from the district's 10 schools in a program of folk songs, a Beatles tune and "Sing It Out," a song written for the performance by Bloomington music teacher Jeff Zupfer.

In New Hope, the highest-scoring third-graders from eight Robbinsdale district elementary schools will croon folk songs, spirituals and patriotic numbers at 6:30 p.m. at Robbinsdale Cooper High School.

This spring, similar singalongs have been held in the St. Cloud, Anoka-Hennepin, South Washington County, Osseo and Moorhead school districts, along with a metrowide event at Johnson High School in St. Paul that also included students from Minneapolis, Stillwater and Burnsville.

Another singalong is scheduled for June 7 in Farmington.

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768

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